‘What do you mean? I feel perfectly safe.’ Yeah—cuz they got the guns!
Did anyone ever recognize you from the punk thing? Were people in war zones into the Ramones? No—in the ‘80s no one gave a shit about punk. At Spin they had like a goth girl as a receptionist. They all hated me! There used to be the joke: ‘We send Legs over there cuz we’re trying to get him killed!’ But when we left Sarajevo, the guy who was our photographer ran over a land mine and was killed. I was supposed to go to the first Gulf War—it didn’t last long enough. I had my ticket from London to Cairo to Riyadh. And I was like, ‘I don’t wanna go.’ My nerves were pretty shot after El Salvador. Another time they wanted me to go to Russia, but I hid til the plane left. Bob Gruen went and was like, ‘Where’s Legs? Where’s fuckin’ Legs?’ I just hid—in an AA meeting. I was smoking cigarettes til the plane left.
Cigarettes opened a lot of doors for you. And closed a lot, too—these days.
I feel like people don’t know this part of your history— I don’t think they care. They just wanna know about Iggy and the Ramones!
What was the big challenge when you did Please Kill Me? Since you knew you weren’t going to get shot or blown up? To recreate emotionally what I was feeling, and I think I came pretty close. Could I conjure this up with just peoples’ voices? This scene? And make it feel like what it felt like? That’s what’s cool about words. You can actually reconstruct or remake something.
How did you start to make sense of punk history? Especially since you were in the middle of it. I had Danny Fields. I knew Danny since I was 19. He was the first person I interviewed for Please Kill Me. He laid out the whole spine of the book. He first worked with Jim Morrison, and then he signed Iggy and the MC5, and he got Nico. And before all this, he was a huge Velvet Underground fan. He forged checks to get plane tickets to see the Velvet Underground. He was in love with Lou Reed. He’s in a lot of those pictures of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. And then John Cale from the Velvet Underground went and produced the first Stooges album, and then Nico goes and moves into the Funhouse—so without Danny I don’t think it could have worked.
The narrative in Please Kill Me seems so fragile. Like if everyone wasn’t in the right place at the right time … the Ramones would be some band no one ever heard of. And Iggy would be some lost-to-history mystery man. It’s tenuous—it’s kinda like fate. Like Richard Hell’s book just came out—I wrote a review of it and blurbed it. All the pivotal moments he talks about are all in Please Kill Me. He elaborates and does a great job of writing and turning that into literature, but it’s fascinating to know that all the key moments are there in Please Kill Me.
So your new book Live Through This started when your therapist told you to write your way out of your trauma— I’m gonna strangle her when I see her again!
What was the actual therapeutic process? What did putting all this down on paper do for you? And to you? My fiancée who I’d lived with for ten years had just left me, and that was what prompted me to go to rehab. I was in a lot of pain—agony. Every day being in agony. I felt like … one, I needed to get over this Shannon thing. My girlfriend who died. And I thought if I’m gonna write honestly about her, I had to write honestly about myself. The book is completely humiliating to me. No, it really … I don’t think I’ll ever read this. I’ll read it out loud but I won’t go back and sit down with it. It’s just too horribly painful. I realized that after Shannon died, I probably shoulda been institutionalized. I stopped eating. I was just insane. Then I discovered Xanax and was having a six-pack in pill form. To tell you the truth … I don’t know how it worked. I just sat here and since I was in so much pain from my fiancée leaving, I decided to write. To sit here and write. No one wanted me to do it—
But you wanted to do it. No, I really didn’t.
Why didn’t you walk away from it? I couldn’t. I don’t really know why, to tell you the truth. Probably because I’m still in the process of it, and I don’t have any time away from it. I’m 57 years old and once I became Legs McNeil at 19, I never really looked back. I had sort of this great charmed life in a way, but I never went back and looked at all the bad stuff that happened to me as a kid. It was nothing I ever wanted to examine. Then I started reading a lot of Jung and … I always thought therapy was bullshit and psychology was bullshit, but a lot of it made sense. I was like, ‘Oh … that’s why I did this.’ The last ten years, I really didn’t know why I was doing things. I didn’t know why I was having affairs and fucking around and having such amazing amounts of anxiety. I was really fucking clueless. For a guy who’s really sharp … about myself, I’m not that sharp.
Those are two different things—looking out and looking in. Yeah—so I thought maybe it was time to take a real … it was awful, I must say. Just absolutely … I woulda rather been killed by that grenade. It was like I didn’t have a choice. There was nothing else to do. It was like, ‘Can I be brutally honest about myself? And about Shannon?’